Tonight marks the premiere of two new Fox sitcoms, one a loud and garish horror, the other a small and gentle charmer. Watch one at your own peril, check out the other for some mild, genial laughs.
The truly execrable show is, it should come as no surprise, the Seth MacFarlane-produced nightmare Dads, a show whose various offenses we've been hearing about for a while now. The pilot episode is especially chock-full of racial stereotypes and sexist gunk, but the second episode, which we've also subjected ourselves to, comes adorned with plenty of misogyny and other unpleasantness of its own. All of that awfulness has been carefully broken down elsewhere, so we won't waste any more time doing that. Plus, there's much more to why Dads is a terrible show.
All of the race and gender hack work is terrible, yes, and the chief reason why people should be angry at the show. But in terms of just plain not liking the series as a series, there are more basic structural problems at work that would likely sink Dads even if it wasn't dumb and offensive for the sake of being dumb and offensive.
Chiefly, good lord do we need more comedy about dads and sons and guys that's done in the most boring, cliched way possible? The two sons, played by Seth Green and a miserable-looking Giovanni Ribisi ("I was in Saving Private Ryan!" his eyes seem to be screaming), run a successful video game company, because that's a cool job for cool guys. See, there has to be a slight element of fantasy here, specifically that these guys are kind of awesome dudes, to make this whole thing work for its intended audience. It's Entourage, only lamer. (Somehow.)
Of course one dude, played by Ribisi, is the totally whipped family man with a pretty, ball-busting wife at home (Vanessa Lachey), while Green's character is the stoner lothario who in the pilot has some slinky lingerie-clad blonde in his bed, an anonymous girl who quickly becomes the butt of a "you're not my girlfriend" joke. So that's all pretty tired, isn't it? It's as if someone took, for example, the movie Bad Boys and simply changed the two guys from cops to video game designers (and cast far less funny actors).
Then it's on to the dads, played sadly by Martin Mull and Peter Riegart, who are also stock characters with nothing remotely new or surprising added. Mull is the oblivious, bumbling big dreamer, while Riegart is the gruff, tell-it-like-it-is (read: he's an asshole) absentee dad whose son resents him. The whole show is a rehash of stuff we've seen done a million times, and done better. The second episode is a long gag about pot brownies, because we've never seen "people getting accidentally stoned from eating brownies" routine before, nor the "old people doing pot is funny" bit.
That episode's main tension is that Green's character needs to come up with a video game for the company to manufacture and sell for the holidays, but he's not coming up with anything because he's not been getting stoned lately. That gives the show a moment to have some fun "tweaking" the language of interventions and addiction, har har, but also exposes a more general sloppy thoughtlessness. The company's entire strategy for the biggest sales quarter of the year is to have this one dope come up with a video game on the spot? I know it's a sitcom, but come on. That's just lazy.
The entire show is lazy, and seems exhaustingly cynical for it. We're supposed to eat this slop merely because it's rude and, I dunno, on TV. Dull at best and embarrassing at worst, Dads is not some dangerous or risky entity that stuffy critics, with all their PC trappings and high-minded sensibilities, are pooh-poohing out of snobbery. It's actually just a crappy show crappily made. That's all.
Luckily there's Andy Samberg's new police squad comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine to help rescue the night. Set in a Brooklyn precinct staffed by a ragtag, but refreshingly competent, group of detectives (and one civilian), the show mixes some light absurdism in with its cheery, silly banter. The series is from Parks & Recreation creator Michael Schur and one of that show's writers, Dan Goor, and you'll recognize some of the same warmhearted workplace antics; the gentle ribbing, the reassuring sense that nothing too mean, or too bad, is ever going to happen here. And that's just fine.
A show as low-key as Brooklyn Nine-Nine (at least judging by the pilot) lives or dies by the strength of its cast. Lucky for the show, then, that a nimble and cohesive group has been assembled. Samberg is the goofy man-child we've seen him, and others, do countless times before this, but he tones down this guy's usual boorishness while also making him weirder. He's quirky, but not in an overly aggressive way. Chelsea Peretti, a comedian and a writer on Parks & Rec, plays the office's sardonic civilian secretary as, essentially, a more grownup and socially engaged April Ludgate. She has sparky comedic chemistry with Joe Lo Truglio, playing a squirmy detective who has a crush on a tough-as-nails coworker, played by appealing newcomer Stephanie Beatriz. Andre Braugher is the precinct's tough but fair new chief; he chafes with Samberg's character but it's more easy-going fatherly "straighten up!" stuff than actual animosity. There's really no animosity on this show — even the murderer in the first episode doesn't seem so bad.
I don't think Brooklyn Nine-Nine will be breaking down any comedy doors or reinventing any forms, but in the harsh glare of Dads, it's nice to see a show, on the same network no less, that can succeed with good-natured chuckles where Dads fails with hyperactive ugliness. Brooklyn Nine-Nine seems much more in line with Fox's other kind, well-meaning comedies like New Girl and The Mindy Project. The by-the-numbers Dads are the odd ones out here. Odd to say it, but between the police and the cool video game guys? I'm going with the cops.